“For when the heart insists on its destiny, resisting the general blandishment, then the agony is great; so too the danger. Forces, however, will have been set in motion beyond the reckoning of the senses. Sequences of events from the corners of the world will draw gradually together, and miracles of coincidence bring the inevitable to pass. ” -Joseph Campbell
When I was about 11 I got poked in the eye by the local bishop. I knew he did it and he knew he did it, but he quickly went back to working the room rather than acknowledge what he had done. From that day forward I have been pretty sour on religion, but my whole life has also been a slow walk back to finding and exploring the power of the spiritual in my remaining time here on earth.
The greatest advisor I've had in this quest has been Joseph Campbell, whose quote is listed above. Campbell spent a lifetime exploring the world's religions and especially their myths, and his work is among the most fascinating and inspiring you will ever read.
Campbell's entire philosophy is best summed up by his advice to his students to “Follow Your Bliss.” Campbell believed that the heaven many religions seek in an afterlife is actually happening right here and right now on earth, and that by following the “bliss” and intuition inside of us, wonderful, rapturous adventures are there for the taking. I've certainly found this to be true in my own life. Campbell described this adventure in life through something called the “Hero's Journey” which is a series of steps people move through on the course of their own adventure, and this Hero's Journey was the basis of two of my own books, Barack, Lance, Oprah, & Rudy: Exploring Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey in Contemporary American Society & A Life Lived Twice-Elderly Reflections Using Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey.
In my second book I interviewed 4 extraordinary elderly people, and each of them talked about being guided by a “force” as they moved through life, and each of them thought this force was God who was guiding them through this life so they could enjoy an even better one in the next. One of these people was a nun, who described the absolute joy she got from serving others and therefore serving God, and hearing her talk about her faith was both moving and compelling. All of the people I interviewed found religion to be a strong positive force in their lives, and hearing their stories made me consider my own anti-religious bias. Perhaps things would have been different if that bishop had just admitted he had poked me all of those years ago. In any case hearing their stories made me want to further investigate the link between religion and joy.
A wonderful place to start this investigation was examining the life of C.S. Lewis, once a professed atheist, who found himself Surprised by Joy, which is the title of the book he wrote about his discovery of God and the joy this brought to his life. Lewis is best known for his Chronicles of Narnia tales, which many know is a wonderful set of children's books that uses allegory to tell a tale of spiritual faith. What many people do not know is that Lewis was a prominent man of letters prior to writing these books, and began writing children's books after having already made his reputation as one of the world's most important writers. Why focus on children at this point? Perhaps Lewis took notice of Jesus' words found in the biblical passage Matthew 18:1-5, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”
Are there any words in the Bible that endorse the power of joy and laughter more than this? This certainly is powerful instruction and C.S Lewis seems to have heeded it in his own life. His path to Christianity was spurred on by an intense longing to return to a sense of “home” which he came to interpret as a desire to be rejoined with his creator in heaven. Lewis spoke of his longing in terms of “tantalizing glimpses” and “promises never quite fulfilled” Lewis described observing the beauty in the world and “wanting to be a part of it” which is a remarkably interesting idea which has undertones that also encompass Buddhism, Hinduism, and even Quantum mechanics. What Lewis seemed to be saying was that we are all made of the same energy, but that this energy also has an original divine source, which is where Christianity may differ slightly from other ways of thinking such as Campbell's, that understand the energy itself as the divine source. Whether we define this “guiding force” theistically like C.S Lewis did, or atheistically like Joseph Campbell did, following it appears to offer a blueprint for a life filled with joy.